Crying babies and dogs

Crying babies and dogs aren’t the best combination. Especially if you have a dog with a strong prey drive.

A few nights ago I had a very interesting, creative training session with a client who is six months pregnant and her two-year old French bulldog, Olivia.

Managing Crying Babies and Dogs

managing crying babies and dogsOlivia has in the past reacted to sharp, high-pitched noises with a habit of instinctively charging towards them with her prey drive strongly activated.

This included running menacingly towards the tv when she heard the sounds of crying babies. Obviously not a great habit with a newborn around!

Because of this, I recommended in a previous training that my client purchase an audio cd with baby cries and related noises. When I got there she had downloaded a collection of annoying babies sounds on her phone.

I spent a few minutes thinking about how best to use them. What I came up with was to combine two things.

Building Positive Associations

First, and most obvious, I wanted to use the recorded sounds to help desensitize Olivia to their presence. Generally the way to do this is by playing the offending sound at a low volume and having the dog do something fun and positive with me.

In this case, that meant doing simple obedience commands for treats or a game of fetch or tug, while she’s aware of the sound but not yet reacting to it.

Then, as she gets increasingly used to it we slowly ratchet up the volume while continuing to keep the dog focused on me. If at any time the dog begins getting reactive, we turn the volume down a bit and return the dog’s focus to the fun stuff we were doing together.

The idea was to get Olivia gradually used to the offending sounds and learn both to disregard them and to look to her owner for something positive instead of responding to the directives of her prey instinct.

Adding A Twist To The Training

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-7-46-34-am-5But as I was working with her something interesting occurred to me. Another command that the owners wanted to teach Olivia was “place,” meaning to go to whatever nearby bed we were pointing to when we said “place.”

What about combining these things, I thought to myself?

So here’s what we did.

First we spent about 15 minutes teaching Olivia to go to “place” using some treats and a lot of guidance. Since Olivia is pretty smart and very food motivated it didn’t take long. After twenty minutes we had her going to place from a good fifteen to twenty feet away.

That’s when I decided to bring the baby sounds in. Since the audio was on the phone it could be turned on and off quickly. So I had the client suddenly turn on the baby crying sound as loud as the phone would play and simultaneously say “place” to Olivia.

Of course, since we’d been working on this for some time, Olivia responded quickly. However, now instead of just hearing “place” she was hearing the baby sounds starting at the same moment she heard “place.”

The second Olivia hit the bed we turned off the baby sound. The idea was to have Olivia start interpreting the baby crying sound exactly the same way as the “place” command.

This would have the very desirable result of teaching her that when she hears the baby crying instead of running over to the baby with her prey drive all fired up, she’d run to her bed instead excitedly anticipating a treat.

So that’s exactly what we did. And it worked great. After about another twenty minutes, any time we’d play the baby sounds on the phone Olivia would come running over and look for her “place.”

We then added another layer of complexity by beginning to move the bed around so that she’d have to work a bit to find it. I wanted to be sure that Olivia really “got” that hearing the baby sounds meant “find your bed and chill out.”

By the end of the hour she’d definitely done that.

Taking It To The Next Level

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.06.21 AMBut then something else occurred to me. As I’d been looking around the client’s house I noticed that they had a SONOS sound system installed. SONOS is cool because you can have system speakers installed in all the rooms and then control which room the sound would play in from your phone.

So it occurred to me that we could expand Olivia’s understanding to include that when she hears the baby sound coming from anywhere in the house that she’d seek out one of her owners in anticipation of going to “place.” So that’s what we did.

The client began playing the baby sound—which was reproduced amazingly realistically from the SONOS system—from a variety of rooms and the second it began they’d command “place” to Olivia.

Of course Olivia, having completely figured the game out out after a few minutes, came running from wherever she was when the baby sound started, looked for us and then the “place” location, ran over and threw herself into it in anticipation of her treat. Which we promptly delivered.

Rewiring Your Dog’s Brain & Behavior

So by the end of about an hour and a half we’d reoriented Olivia’s response to crying baby sounds in a way that both rewired her expectations of what that meant and produced a behavior that would actually make her parent’s job in managing her significantly easier.

It also taught Olivia to associate the presence of the baby with something awesome for her. And to boot, we all had a ton of fun.

This is just one example of how preparing early for the arrival of your baby can make an enormous difference in smoothing out this major transition in everyone’s lives.

Here’s where you can find out more about the products I just mentioned:

For the baby sounds audio file go here:
Check out the SONOS sound system here:

(Photos via Flickr CC: Olga, Eduardo Merille)


Want to learn how you can train your dog like this? You can check out my new self-paced online course, where I teach you how to use a lot of these techniques, step-by-step. You can find it here: Good Dog Happy Baby Course




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